Dr Sarah Lieberman and Dr Soeren Keil introduce their new CEFEUS research project “The Impact of COVID-19 on Kent and Medway”.

We are living in extra-ordinary times. Never has this phrase rung truer than today, in 2020, as we witness the global population come together in an unprecedented way, while staying apart in an equally unprecedented way.

We are living through a global pandemic, a new version of Corona Virus, which causes the disease now known as COVID-19. This was declared a pandemic in February 2020 by the World Health Organisation, and from this point on we have witnessed death rates rise, and states enact new rules, regulations, laws and policies to protect citizens.

Largely, this has meant a period of family isolation, a cessation of travel and a closing of businesses, none of which can be enacted without significant impact on the mental, physical, and economic well-being of the global population.

By looking at how the current crisis has affected people in Kent and Medway, we hope to shed light into the different experiences of students, business owners, employees and employers, smaller and larger companies, teachers and many others during this unprecedented period. In the first phase, we start with personal stories, as well as wider societal issues that have affected people in Kent. We have invited several people to write short pieces for our blog, and to tell us their stories – to share with us their experiences, both good and bad.

As political scientists, we are interested particularly in the domestic and international political situation this brings about, but this may not be evident for months or even years to come. However, we now have a perfect opportunity to collect the stories that will allow us to analyse and evaluate changes to society brought about by this unusual period of history. We have decided to collect local stories, from people from different background, at different ages and in different parts of Kent and Medway. The focus on the “local” will give a first picture on the multifaceted impacts of the coronavirus crisis and the way it is affecting us all, and people individually.

These stories together highlight a wider picture. One that demonstrated how these unprecedented times have affected people individually. How people have struggled, either because they had and survived the virus, or they lost loved ones who had the virus, they struggled mentally as a result of isolation and loneliness, job loss and financial hardship, and they struggled emotionally in coping with this unknown disease and these challenging circumstances. But some of the stories also paint a picture of resilience, of hope and of the human spirit that emerges in the darkness of the coronavirus crisis. These are stories of people overcoming the challenges they face, finding new ways to interact with friends and family, businesses showing their ingenuity to survive, and people coming together to help one-another.

We start this project with modest and achievable aims: to collect stories from around Kent. We want to see how this period now named as ‘lockdown’ has affected those around us, in the first instance, those geographically around us in Kent. We have collected stories on home schooling and altered education; on closed businesses and empty tourist spots; on student life and (un)employment; on new strategies for transport and travel; and on the geographical differences in our region.

As we go on with this project, we will add some evaluation and analysis. We will look at how this period of lockdown might end; we will discuss the economic impacts, both local and global; and we will look at the international relations of the issues at hand.

The Chinese Philosopher noted the double faceted nature of interesting times: We certainly feel alternately blessed and cursed as we work from home witnessing society change in ways that currently appear to be forever. By collecting these stories we hope to shed light on this blessed curse, and hope to draw our immediate community closer by sharing experiences.

We hope you enjoy these stories, and perhaps feel tempted to tell us your own story. We would love to hear it.

Dr Sarah Lieberman is Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Canterbury Christ Church University, and principal investigator in the project “The Impact of COVID-19 on Kent and Medway”.

Dr Soeren Keil is Reader in Politics and International Relations  and Jean Monnet Chair in European Foreign Policy at Canterbury Christ Church University. He is Co-Investigator in the project “The Impact of COVID-19 on Kent and Medway”.